The Razorbacks played in their first BCS bowl game in history last week and lost in heartbreaking fashion. Had we won, I still would've written an indictment of the BCS this week, so please take only, say, half of this column as my residual bitterness.
For anyone who doesn't know what the BCS is, don't feel bad; even hard-core fans generally only know it as a series of letters. It stands for "Bowl Championship Series" and it's not an entity, but a series of events managed by 11 athletic conferences and Notre Dame. There is no real organization, other than complicity between the commissioners of major college football's athletic conferences, and even then, the leaders of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, and SEC have all the say.
In their new book, "Death to the BCS," Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan give this group a more acerbic title: "The Cartel." At first, you want to scoff at the hyperbolic tone of these three writers from Yahoo Sports, but once you begin to dig into their facts, it's hard to disagree with much that they say.
The authors begin by stating that the National College Athletic Association holds national tournaments with great success in 88 different sports. Only in one sport do they not crown an official champion: Division I-A football. And if you think the BCS system exists because college football fans prefer a random series of bowls to a playoff, we're reminded that the approval rating for the BCS hovers at 10 percent.
Wetzel, Peter and Passan manage to do what any convincing polemicists do and that's incite outrage. Their method? Exposing corruption. In addition to the 12 "Cartel" members, each bowl is run, in the guise of a "non-profit," by an executive director.
In 2008, the executive director of the Sugar Bowl, for instance, was paid $607,500 in compensation. This doesn't include the expenditures of $494,177 vaguely labeled "entertainment"; the $455,781 labeled "special appropriations," or the $260,062 for "other expenses" on their tax returns. If this weren't egregious enough, add to it in 2008 the Sugar Bowl received $3 million in funding from Louisiana taxpayers' dollars.
It would be one thing if the universities were sharing in the boondoggle, but the authors attack this myth as well. We hear much in the bowl media about the huge "payouts" universities receive, but the authors classify that as a "shell game." Almost all bowl games require that a school buy a certain number of tickets, therefore, the bowls may be giving the schools millions in a payout for making it to their bowl, but the schools are contractually required to give millions back for tickets that may go unsold, particularly in smaller bowls.
Wetzel, Peter and Passan use the 2009 BCS title game and the Florida Gators as the most abominable example of this. "Between coaches' bonuses ($960,000), travel costs ($681,000), tickets ($320,000), band and cheerleaders ($190,000), and other expenses, the total to travel across the state to Miami Gardens was $2.42 million. For winning the BCS championship game, Florida made $47,000."
Proponents of the BCS claim that the bowls are "charitable" events, but upon closer inspection, we learn that the 2007 Sugar Bowl brought in $34.1 million in revenue, including $11.6 million in tax-free profit, yet gave nothing to charities. That's right, nothing.
But the reason "Death to the BCS" is so convincing is because it not only attacks the flimsy foundation of the Bowl Championship Series, it proposes an effective alternative. The authors propose a system where the conference champions of the 11 major conferences would be automatic qualifiers while the remaining five spots would be given to at-large selections. The first three rounds would be played at the stadiums of the participating teams, ensuring crowds and plenty of money going back to the universities. The games would culminate in a head-to-head match-up to decide a champion between two teams who would play a total of 17 games that season. The entire process could take place in the same amount of time, the weekend before Christmas to the second Monday of January, that the bowl games do now, and the estimates are that the playoff would gross $750 million, as compared to the $220 million the current bowl system pays.
With all the evidence these authors put forward for why the BCS system should not exist, you begin to wonder how and why it still does. The answer, of course, is the same reason corruption exists anywhere and that's because all the right people are being paid off. From coaches' bonuses to commissioners' bonuses to athletic directors' bonuses, all the pigs are at the trough and the system doesn't look to change anytime soon. What else could explain why Mark Cuban could offer to spend $500 million of his own money to arrange a playoff system and he got no takers?
Like Gov. William J. Le Petomane from "Blazing Saddles" said, "We've got to protect our phoney-baloney jobs here, gentlemen."